Mystery of the Mind
But, right now, we are going to explore a "Mystery of the Mind" dealing with pain, a kind of pain most of us can't even imagine. You are about to meet a girl who mysteriously developed pain that was so excruciating, so intense, that it made normal life unbearable. Her only relief turned out to be a radical and extreme treatment.
ZAHN (voice-over): In just a matter of months, Lindsay Wurtenberg went from an enthusiastic 14-year-old dancer to a desperate wheel-chair-bound teenager.
LINDSAY WURTENBERG, CHRONIC PAIN PATIENT: I became suicidal. If I was able to walk, I probably would have tried killing myself.
ZAHN: As incredible as it seems, the tragedy that befell this New Jersey girl was caused by a normally harmless nonlethal spider bit.
L. WURTENBERG: It was almost like a stabbing in my leg, like I was being stabbed by someone, like, over and over and over again, and 24/7, just never went away.
ZAHN: Lindsay was diagnosed with reflex sympathetic dystrophy. More than a million Americans suffer from it.
Simply put, it's the mind and body overreacting to an injury. The pain neurons triggered by the trauma mysteriously go haywire and cause a chain reaction of even more pain. Experts compare it to a car engine revving out of control.
Lindsay's excruciating pain moved from her right thigh, where the spider bit her, to both legs, then both arms, then her back. Her body became so sensitive that even the light touch of a blanket was unbearable. She wasn't able to walk, go to school, or do anything.
DR. ROBERT SCHWARTZMAN, CHAIRMAN OF NEUROLOGY DEPARTMENT, DREXEL UNIVERSITY COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: She was in a wheelchair. She hadn't walked for seven months. And she -- she's a teenager. So, she had absolutely no life. You really couldn't touch her anywhere.
ZAHN: Lindsay's physician, Dr. Robert Schwartzman, is chairman of the the Neurology Department at Drexel University College of Medicine. Even with a diagnosis, he couldn't tell Lindsay why this injury, which usually heals normally, triggered unbearable chronic pain.
SCHWARTZMAN: Some people think it's a susceptibility. Others think it's the circumstances of the injury. We just don't know.
ZAHN: Lindsay tried painful physical therapy, dozens of pain- reducing medications, frequent hospitalizations. Nothing worked.
Then, her mother heard about an experimental treatment, something so desperate and extreme, it will shock you. Lindsay's mother decided to put her daughter into a coma -- yes, a coma.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I felt I had no other option. What else am I going to do? She couldn't take care of herself. She couldn't walk. She wasn't going to school. She had no interest in anything. All she talked about was dying, actually. She constantly said: I don't even want to live. This is just too much. I can't bear it anymore.
SCHWARTZMAN: The patients that we put in coma are intractable. They have failed everything. They have failed all known treatments for pain. They absolutely have no quality of life. I don't think there's a worse pain problem.
ZAHN: Since the treatment is not approved by the FDA, Lindsay and her parents traveled to see Dr. Schwartzman's colleagues in Germany. There, she was given a continuous intravenous cocktail of anesthetics to induce a coma.
The theory is, the coma allows the constant throbbing pain connections from the body to the brain to reset, like a computer reboot. For five days, powerful drugs surged through Lindsay's veins. She needed a ventilator to breathe.
L. WURTENBERG: I remember dreams that I had when I was in a coma, just really weird things, me floating in air.
JOHN WURTENBERG, FATHER OF LINDSAY WURTENBERG: The five days felt like five months. It was the longest five days of my life.
ZAHN: The stress didn't end when Lindsay was finally brought out of the coma. L. WURTENBERG: They told us about, there will be side effects. And she woke up and didn't know us. It just wasn't my daughter. And I was very scared. And then, when she did come out two days after the coma, when she came back to herself, when she mentioned our names, she knew who we were, and we knew we had our little girl back.
ZAHN: Amazingly, Lindsay was almost pain free.
L. WURTENBERG: I feel better. And mom is getting on my nerves.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It looks like we got Lindsay back.
ZAHN: According to Dr. Schwartzman, the experimental coma has worked for almost half of the nearly 30 patients he has sent to Germany, returning them to a normal life.
The treatment is controversial. Critics think that inducing a coma is risky, but worth further investigation. Dr. Schwartzman agrees. He has hundreds of patients on his waiting list, desperate people, like Lindsay, whose lives have been crushed by sharp, constant and mysterious pain.
More than two years after her coma, Lindsay Wurtenberg is walking, going to school, dreaming of becoming a fashion designer. Occasionally, she has a little pain, but nothing compared to before the coma. She needs booster injections of pain medication every so often, but that's the new normal for this high schooler who is thankful to finally have her life back.
L. WURTENBERG: I'm not in a wheelchair. I just finished my whole year of school, which I haven't done that since Germany. So, it's amazing. I feel really good right now.
ZAHN: And you can see why.
Another thing to add: Dr. Schwartzman is working with some new antiinflammatory drugs which show great promise in helping patients with reflex sympathetic dystrophy. But, for patients like Lindsay, who respond to absolutely nothing, the coma treatment is currently the only option.
And Dr. Schwartzman is hoping to send even more of his patients to Germany by the end of the year for that treatment.
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